Friday, March 20, 2009

In which I try to recreate the post that mysteriously disappeared

So, apparently we're having technical difficulties with the whole blog platform thing. I posted last night, and actually saw it live on screen, but when I went to correct a spelling error, the post had mysteriously disappeared *poof*

This is the third time it's happened in a week or so, but I was just too tired to try and recreate it last night. Anyhow, I was posting about the book I'm currently reading (and probably will be for a while).

Weighing in at a hefty 4.75 pounds and 1,376 pages, Hunger's Brides: A Novel of the Baroque.

And in this corner, at a much more manageable 2.2 pounds and 750 pounds, Sor Juana or the Breath of Heaven: The Essential Story from the Epic, Hunger's Brides (no really, that's the title).

I was working for the publisher when Hunger's Brides first published in the U.S. in 2005 (it was originally published in Canada) and brought home a copy to read. Mostly as a challenge. Most reviews of the book were focused on it's size. The New York Times, while acknowledging that the book is well-written, equated it with a 6-pack of beer (4.75 pounds), 3 hardcover copies of The Da Vinci Code (5.25 pounds), and a chihuahua (4 pounds).

The story is historical fiction. And it's not. The author, Paul Anderson, writes as different characters at different moments in time. There's the historical story of Sor Juana and the imagined bits or her life to go with it, and there's a current day story of Gregory and Beulah—of which I can't tell you anything because I became bored with it and started skipping those sections.

I was about a third of the way through when my boss asked how I was liking it. When I told her I was skipping entire sections, she advised me to wait for the paperback. Apparently, the manuscript was being reedited to exclude the current day storyline. The paperback has been sitting on my shelf for nearly 3 years. It sits no longer.

I started rereading it the other night and the story of Sor Juana is just as enthralling as it was the first time. The story begins at her deathbed but then immediately picks up in her youth. Juana Inés Ramírez de Santillana is an extremely precocious child, learning to read far earlier than her peers, reading Herodotus, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Thucydides.

She simply hungers for knowledge and is always examining, questioning and challenging. But her story takes place in New Spain in the mid-1600s, when women weren't expected to have more than a rudimentary education. Real learning for women was frowned upon and questioning authority was particularly blasphemous, especially when questioning the church.

It is also time of immense cultural shifting. The conquest is over, but the hacienda and caste systems are deeply entrenched. Juana (and her 2 sisters) is the illegitimate daughter of a Basque father and Castillian (possibly Mestizo) mother. Her mother is a non-conformist and works the hacienda with the Mexica men. Her mother leaves the child rearing to the Mexica house servant, Xochitl, whose daughter, Amanda, was born the same day as Juana. The two become fast friends and Juana learns about the world from the Mexica point of view as well.

There's no way I can sum up such a huge book (that I haven't completely read yet!)—there's the historical part of the story, the gender aspect, and the cultural aspect. And it's is extremely well-written. Oh, and there's some of Sor Juana's poetry as well. I like how how Spanish and Nahuatl are sprinkled through the text and I like the subtle changes in Juana's voice as time passes.

Anyhow, I know how I can be when I really like a book. Nothing else matters—not work, or sleep, or food, or sex. So I've placed the book on my elliptical machine (a pedestal of sorts) and have decided I can only read while I'm working out.

So how's that working out for me? I've decided that my workouts are far too short. I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

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